In 2008, busy working moms Susan Borison and Stephanie Silverman were looking for sources of information addressing the unique needs of parents with teenagers. Plenty of publications doled out advice for those with little ones, but of course, what works at age six simply doesn’t apply at age 13. Susan thought a print publication targeted solely at the parents of teens was desperately needed. In addition, she and Stephanie felt it made sense to give parents and families an online community they could turn to for much-needed advice.
“As I spoke with other moms, the reception to our idea was great,” says Susan. “It resonated with parents, people who work with teens and teachers as well. Everyone we told was very excited.”
This kernel of an idea became Your Teen magazine, which launched in Northeast Ohio bookstores in 2008, and a website, yourteenmag.com. Both places discuss how to deal with issues parents of adolescents face every day—to name a few, driving, parties, relationships, education and sexuality—while giving professional experts, parents and even teens themselves a chance to dole out helpful advice.
As Your Teen Media continued to grow, the company established a social media presence and started presenting adolescent-related informational events (such as the September 5 panel discussion, “The Bully Culture: Navigating a Social Jungle,” at Tri-C’s Corporate College East location). At the moment, they’re also increasing their print circulation (which currently stands at 25,000) and overhauling their website to enhance their SEO.
From a business perspective, the diversification is smart: Your Teen understands that as a media company, it needs to bolster its digital space and tap into nontraditional models of revenue generation if it wants to survive. “I was impressed because they had already done what so many media outlets are looking to do, which is to monetize their audience in ways beyond advertising,” says MedCity Media CEO Chris Seper, who also advises and mentors them.
“Most publications say, ‘Advertise with me, or subscribe to me,’ but that doesn’t really work. Successful publications like TechCrunch, VentureBeat, or Mashable do events. They bring their online audience together in real-time. Your Teen is already doing that. They have a great events business and a great customer base.”
Unlike many other media company founders, neither woman had publishing industry experience prior to founding Your Teen; Susan was a lawyer and Stephanie worked in the finance sector. This lack of a conventional background meant the pair wasn’t bound by tradition—which was a plus, as they didn’t have any preconceived notions as to how they should operate Your Teen. Participating in Ladies Who Launch, a national program that helps women entrepreneurs through workshops and meet-ups, further validated their commitment to unorthodoxy.
“[Ladies Who Launch] taught me that you can get to the endgame many different ways, and that you don’t have to play by the rules,” Susan says. “Women who have become entrepreneurs or gone through MBA programs know that even though they progress differently, they can still meet with success.”
Still, because even the most offbeat startup needs a solid business foundation, they were recommended for the JumpStart mentoring program. Their sessions to date have left them “exhausted and challenged,” Susan says. “This sounds cliché, but the mentors really push us to go outside of our comfort zone. Every time we meet with them, we leave with our heads spinning.
“When people are asking you questions that you know the answers to, that’s fun. But when people who have more experience than you push back, you really consider it—and you end up somewhere hopefully much grander than you thought.”
In fact, the mentoring program encouraged Your Teen to focus their long-term goals and plans. Figuring out the best way to scale their business nationally is one of the bigger challenges they’re currently facing; strategic partnerships, an influx of equity or a combination of the two seem to be the best options they’re weighing. Still, like parenting, Susan knows business is an imperfect process—and she’s confident they’ll learn from whatever direction Your Teen takes in the future.
“We were once asked by a reporter, ‘What was your biggest mistake?’” she says. “We felt like we couldn’t come up with one. I feel that even those things that don’t work take us to another place. Our attitude is that this is all in a day’s work. It’s all part of the journey.”
Gloria Ware is a Senior Advisor at JumpStart. She helps entrepreneurs improve their odds of obtaining funding and achieving business success via outreach, coaching, and technical and business development support.